Over the next two weeks I will be posting a series of posts that examines the Church’s understanding of family and marriage, especially from the context of American Evangelicalism.
I wrote much of it for a class on Ecclesiology (theological study of the Christian Church), but know it is appropriate to share on Hope in Exile. While it is rather long, I promise if you press on you will find something of value. Our theology changes everything, including marriage and the family. Here’s the whole take-away for the series: the Church has wrongly viewed itself as a voluntary association whose ultimate allegiance is at times to the nuclear family, headed by a married couple.
The Church is not a voluntary association of people. It is not a club that comes together freely and out of matters of preference or affinity. Instead the Church is the people of God, called from the world, to live in it for Christ. Our ultimate allegiance, the thing we cling to for life, liberty, happiness, etc. is Christ. Not the government, not money, not even our family and that most intimate relationship: marriage. Nothing of this world is our God or can save us; none of this stuff can keep us happy, safe, well-off… you get the idea.
Yet a look at the American Evangelical church reveals a view of marriage that is troubling. There singleness is not a realistic option, and marriage is almost absolutely necessary to have many of life’s goods. Even more troubling, marriage has become an assumed part of being an adult in the church. The Evangelical church has embraced marriage as its key social unit for gathering, and thus has unintentionallyexcluded the single person and non-nuclear families from its gathering.
A Trinitarian-Kingdom framework provides a necessary critique of the church’s overemphasis of the married couple. When we understand God as Triune community seeking out the other, and in that seeking establishing the Kingdom, we recognize that the married, and those with immediate family-ties, have no privilege above others. Jesus seeks to create a community of disciples outside the normal marks of kinship, and includes all — even those on the margins. In doing so he makes a critique of the cultures at the time of His incarnation, and those today that place a heavy emphasis on marriage and family-bonds. This critique shows that singleness has a special place in God’s community and that the local church is the ultimate social unit, the concrete representation of the kingdom, and to be a welcoming community.
Why this series? I write it as a single person who has been hurt by the Church’s almost unbroken insistence on marriage. I have felt exclusion from the church-community because I am an unmarried individual. At the same time, I write as a person who is thankful for the love, care, and example of fidelity that married persons in my life have shown me.
Over the next two weeks, join me in this series on singleness, marriage, and the Church. In the next post I will telling my own story about Valentines day, and stories from others about family and the church.